Children of Men (2006)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Last night I watched Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. I hadn’t been overly anxious to see the film until recently when quite a few positive comments came my way. So I decided to give it a go.

It turns out I liked the film, quite a bit, though I can’t say I’m wildly enthusiastic. It’s good, not great. There are some relatively long expositional sections, particularly in the first half, that dragged, at least for me. (And they all seemed to end with bombs or guns going off, as if someone realized it was getting overly long and they needed to quickly grab the viewer’s attention. “Quick! We’re losing them. Blow something up!”)

Actually, I was much more fascinated by the documentary on the DVD, The Possibility of Hope, also directed by Cuaron. I wouldn’t call it great either. It had my attention partly because its subject matter is something I’ve been very interested in lately – the effects of our current state of globalization, world economics, capitalism, population, immigration, etc., and the effects of these stresses on the planet.

But as for Children of Men … I’ve seen it referred to as science fiction and I’m not convinced that’s quite accurate. The film concerns a world, in the future (2027), where women are no longer fertile and thus the prospect of the human race dying out is very real as there are no more births. (I don’t recall if the film refers to test tube babies, cloning and so on.)

Scene from Children of Men (2006) starring Clive Owen.

What I missed, however, was an explanation for this situation. I would have to watch the film again because it’s possible I missed it (in one of those lengthy expositional scenes I spoke of).

I don’t want to give away plot elements so I’ll be vague here, but later in the film, when a certain situation is referred to by some as “a miracle” there is again no explanation for it – at least not that I remember.

As mentioned, I may have missed these – I’d have to watch the movie again to know for sure. But if these explanations are missing, it isn’t science fiction, at least not the way I understand it.

And this is not to say that the absence is a flaw.

It is simply to say that, as I understand a science fiction story, it needs to predicate a scientifically plausible situation and the resolution also needs to be scientifically plausible. Otherwise, whatever the story is, it isn’t science fiction.

Children of Men is better described as myth, or folk tale. Though it has an almost obsessively realistic feel due to the cinematography and editing, the story is more in the myth/folk tale category.

This is also why the story is almost completely from a template. It’s one we’ve heard and/or seen dozens of times, if not more. It’s the hero story. It’s set in a world going to hell in a handbasket. The hero’s quest, or task, is to bring hope to this world.

What Cuaron does is to take this myth and set it in a context that is contemporary and thus recognizeable. This allows him to manage the themes, also articulated in his documentary (globalization, immigration and so on), and riff on them, so to speak.

The end result is a pretty good film, largely engaging. More importantly, hopefully, it brings to a wider audience a greater awareness of the themes it manages and the consequences of where we appear to be headed as a world.

Three stars out of four.


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